Mersehead Recent Sightings 10th October - 16th October 2020

The advantage of the shortening October days is that you don’t have to get up particularly early to appreciate an awe inspiring sunrise.  This is made all the more special by the opportunity to witness thousands of Barnacle Geese fly across the red bleached sky, as they make the short journey from mudflat roosts on the Solway Estuary to daytime feeding grounds on the specially prepared fields of Mersehead.

Sunrise on Mersehead beach. Photo credit: P. Radford

Barnacle Geese leaving overnight roost.  Photo credit: D. Jackson

Follow the geese in land, through the woodland and along the hedgerow, where you might be lucky enough to spot one of the first Redwing who, along with Fieldfare have arrived from Scandinavia and Russia to feast on crimson haws.  Don’t get too distracted by what is in the hedgerow, as you may miss as many as 10 Roe Deer bounding effortlessly across and between the adjacent fields.

Redwing. Photo credit: D. Jackson

Next to the Bruaich or Meida hide, where water levels are being actively monitored and adjusted via a network of sluices, to create and maintain the ideal roosting and feeding conditions for the array of swans, geese and dabbling ducks whose numbers are gradually increasing.  Let the water get too deep, and the diminutive Teal won’t be able to reach the seeds and invertebrates that they sieve from the water.  Uniquely amongst dabbling ducks, Wigeon primarily graze on waterside pastures which, along with the need of wintering Lapwing for exposed muddy areas, is another reason to not let flooding become too extensive.  However, areas of deeper water are still required to support Pintail who, with their long elegant necks can reach to around twice the depth of Teal.  Flooding also provides a watery barrier from some ground-based predators, ensuring the wildfowl have somewhere relaxing and safe to roost.  A deep pool in front of the Bruaich Hide has attracted a host of Canada Geese (around 150 in total across the Wetlands), who may have originated from the land of the red maple leaf, but will certainly have migrated from elsewhere in the UK to spend the winter at Mersehead.

Early morning at the Bruaich Hide. Photo credit: P. Radford

Head back out from the hide, and by now the Barnacle Geese should have joined the deer in the fields.  Many visitors have been fortunate to spot the white goose of the family – a Leucistic Barnacle Goose who, with its lack of pigmentation, really stands out from the crowd.

Leucistic Barnacle Goose. Photo credit: P. Radford

Take some time to study the Robin as he defends his territory along the trails, and you may notice that his breast is more orange than red.  It is suggested that the word “orange” wasn’t associated with a colour until the 16th Century, and therefore early descriptions of Erithacus rubecula would have led to the coining of “Robin Red-breast”.  Poetic license therefore allows mention of the pumpkins that are waiting to be discovered around the reserve for anyone young or old who would like to partake in the half-term Halloween Treasure Hunt, running throughout October.

Next on to Rainbow Lane, which may now look a little different to regular visitors.  This is thanks to our dedicated team of volunteers, who were looking more flushed in the cheeks following a hard Tuesday morning of gorse clearance.  The reward for their efforts was a perfectly scripted rainbow, rising high over the lane and surrounding hills.

Rainbow Lane rainbow. Photo credit: D. Jackson

With the sun now beginning to set, head down the path across the Merse and back to the beach.  The geese will soon join you as they return in large, noisy skeins to the mudflats to roost for the night.  On a clear evening all this week, looking South East has revealed the Red Planet, showing clear and bright in the night sky.  Mars and Earth are currently the closest they have been in 17 years – being a mere 38 million miles apart!

Geese leaving West Preston and heading to the beach. Photo credit: P. Radford

With the Mersehead experience complete, a trip to Glencaple to walk along the River Nith allows Kirkconnell Merse – owned and managed by the RSPB – to be viewed across the river. Amongst the highlights of today’s Wetland Birds Survey (WeBS) were Red-breasted Merganser (7), Redshank (163) and Pintail (350).  Another spectacle offered by the Nith is a tidal bore, which rushes in around two hours before high tide, signalling that time is running out to complete the count before the mud disappears!

Tidal bore on the River Nith. Video credit: P. Radford

Just a reminder that Meida and Bruaich hides are now open. Measures are in place for you to safely use these hides, including provision of sanitising gel, a regular cleaning schedule, and guidance signage. To enable all visitors to enjoy these facilities if they wish to, we hope that all will understand that it may not be possible to spend as much time in the hides as usual, given the limited numbers able visit at any one time.

One toilet is open for visitor use at the visitor centre (10am to 4pm) but the rest of the centre remains closed. The Sulwath Gardens are also re-opened but the play area remains off limits to visitors (and more specifically, children) at present. In the coming weeks, we will be improving features in these gardens, to discover nature and inspire visitors with some ‘take-home ideas’ to help nature.

We hope you can continue to visit and stay safe at this time, while following Scottish government Covid19 guidelines. Please keep updated about the re-opening of RSPB reserves and facilities at: Reserve Reboot

Paul Radford, Assistant Warden